Posts Tagged ‘twilight’

Mastering Light – Sunrise and Sunset

February 1st, 2015

We all love a beautiful sunset, especially when the clouds glow with color. The same happens with sunrise although there may not be as many of us up to enjoy it. There’s something special about sunsets and sunrises that bring joy and wonder to our hearts.

sunset_marin_headlands_2010

My personal favorite is sunrise. I like to arrive while it’s still dark and set up my camera in the cold, crisp morning air. I like standing under the fading stars waiting for the sun to come. I like the stillness of the earth at that time of day. For me, it’s magical.

To get the most out of sunrises and sunsets, it’s helpful to know what’s going on in the sky. (I’ll talk just about sunrises now but much of the same things apply to sunsets.) A lot depends on the clouds. If the sky is completely overcast then you’re not likely to have much of a sunrise or sunset. If the sky is clear then you’ll have a totally different experience. But if the sky is strewn with scattered clouds you may be in for a wonderful experience.  And yet it’s hard to predict.

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Mastering Light – Warm and Cool

July 28th, 2013

Light has several properties that are important to landscape photographers including quality, direction and color.

It is important to understand that different times of day and weather conditions will produce light of different colors.  Also, when you add artificial light sources the range of colors expands.

Our brains play tricks on us when it comes to color.  During twilight we don’t see that the light is a soft, delicate blue.  In fact, we don’t perceive any color cast at all.  But the camera is not fooled.  It sees what is actually there.  Take this image that I call ‘Breakfast’ as an example.

light-warm_and_cool

When drastically different light sources are set next to each other than our eyes can clearly see the difference in the colors.  In this photograph the interior of our home is illuminated by tungsten lights which give off a very warm color.  That’s why our homes feel so warm and cozy at night – because of the warm light emitted by tungsten lights.  (That will change as we replace the tungsten lights with CFLs or LED lights.)  Outside we have a foggy morning at twilight.  The sun is about 10 minutes away from rising.  And it’s clear the color of the outside light is blue.

If I was standing outside away from the warm tungsten light, my mind would trick me into thinking the light was not blue, just a neutral gray.  But the camera is not fooled.

So then why are we so easily fooled?  Because of perception.  Our brains receive input from all of our senses including our eyes.  And without us even being aware of it, this input is translated into something we are familiar with, concepts and generalizations we have learned from all the accumulated experiences of our lives.  And our brain overrides (manipulates if you will) the actual blue color of the outdoor light and we perceive it as neutral.

Our perceptions help us with everyday living.  They help to bring order to our lives from the endless bombardment of stimuli.  But perception interferes with the photographic process of seeing.  As far as day-to-day life is concerned we don’t need to see that the outdoor light is blue.  But as photographers, cultivating the ability to see beyond our perceptions opens up the world to us in ways we normally can’t even imagine.  And isn’t this what photography is all about?


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Best Photograph of 2012 – Big Sur

April 19th, 2013

The next step in selecting the best photograph from among the photographs I captured in 2012 is completed.  And you have spoken in a loud and clear voice.

We are doing this one area at a time.  The first was the California Deserts.  Next came the Eastern Sierra. This round was magnificent Big Sur.  And since I was there three times in 2012 there were a host of photographs to choose from – ten in all.

How did it turn out you ask?  Let’s get right into the results and this time we’ll start with the most popular photograph.

In the number 1 position is Sunset, Pfeiffer Beach.

pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012

Everyone loves a beautiful sunset.  But Mother Nature doesn’t pass them out freely.  So you need to be patient and ready for them when they happen.

Sunset photographs have the best color when they’re underexposed a bit.  But they are so inspiring that too often not enough attention is paid to the foreground.  On this evening I sprinted 100 yards or so down the sandy beach to work the rock outcrop into the composition. And it worked well with the triangular shape of the rock mirroring the diagonal sweep of the clouds.

But that wasn’t enough for an strong foreground.  It was important to capture an interesting pattern in the surf which completed the composition.

 

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Mastering Light – Dawn

March 23rd, 2013

Not long ago I was photographing dawn in Joshua Tree National Park.  I must confess, dawn is my favorite time of day.  And I have thrilled to more spectacular dawns in Joshua Tree than anywhere else.  There are ;often clouds that ignite as the sun approaches.  And the other morning was no exception.

I’d like to share with you three photographs taken that morning.  The alarm went off at 4:30 and we left the motel in Twentynine Palms a 5:30, an hour and a half before sunrise.  There were clouds in the morning sky, the first ingredient for a spectacular sunrise but by no means a guarantee.  I selected Sheep Pass at the west end of Queen Valley because it offered both Joshua Trees and some impressive granite outcrops for an interesting foreground.  We arrived about 45 minutes before sunrise.  It was still dark with the barest glimmer of light in the east.

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Best Photograph of 2012 – California Desert

February 2nd, 2013

We are choosing the best Ralph Nordstrom Photography photograph of 2012, or, more precisely, you are.  We’re running a series of surveys, selecting the best photograph from each of five areas where we did workshops – Death Valley and Joshua Tree (collectively the California Deserts), Eastern Sierra, Big Sur, Zion and Bryce Canyon.

The first survey covered the California Deserts.  And the results are in.  But before presenting them I’d like to give you an opportunity to weigh in on the second survey – the incomparable Eastern Sierra.  We were there in early June which is summer in the Owens Valley but still spring up in the mountains.  There are six photographs to choose from and the survey will only take a couple of minutes.  So click the link below and share your opinion.

Select the Best Eastern Sierra Photograph of 2012

OK, now let’s turn to the results of the California Deserts survey.  There were four photographs, two from Death Valley and two from Joshua Tree.

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New Photographs

September 16th, 2012

I just finished posting a batch of new photographs on my website. They are from three different ‘shoots.’  I’d like to tell you a little about each of the shoots and share the photographs with you.

I don’t put anything up on my website until I get prints that I’m satisfied with.  Another way of putting it – a photograph isn’t done until it looks great on paper.  I’ve made large prints of all of these and, I must confess, I’m very pleased.  I’ll be matting and framing them and showing them to the public for the first time this weekend at the Old Monterey Fine Arts Festival in Monterey, California.  If you’re in the area Saturday or Sunday, stop in and say Hi.

Big Sur

I have two photographs to share from last month’s Big Sur photography workshop.  We covered famous Highway 1 from San Simeon to Carmel-by-the-Sea.  The weather was clear, the sun was bright and an on-shore wind made for some great surf. 

I chose two photographs to put on the website.  The first is Bixby Bridge.  I’m not normally into photographing man-made structures.  But this one turned out so well with great light and a sense of its gracefulness and size that I had to include it.  Click on the link to see the photograph and read more about it.

View Bixby Bridge (2012)

The other photograph is China Cove in Point Lobos State Park.  I’ve always been impressed with its rugged serenity and, with the soft light of an overcast day helping out, I think I finally got a photograph that captures it.

View China Cove (2012)

 

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Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars

May 20th, 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what goes in to making a great landscape photograph. It turns out there are four things, four pillars if you will.  Four, that’s a good number.  There are the four legs of a table or the four wheels of a car.  And not to forget the four sacred directions of the Native Americans.

In landscape photography the four pillars are evenly divided between the aesthetics and the technical.  So what are they?  The two aesthetic pillars are Fantastic Light and Strong Composition.  No surprise there.  The two technical pillars are Appropriate Sharpness and Optimum Exposure.  No surprise there either.  If just one of those pillars is missing, well, the table collapses, the image suffers.

Let’s look at them one by one….

joshua_tree_spring_sunrise_2011

Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)

(click on the images to enlarge them)

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Shoot Till You Can’t Shoot Any More

December 6th, 2008

There’s a lot of talk amongst photographers about shooting in the golden hours – around sunrise and sunset.  There’s no disagreement that the light is wonderful at those times of the day.  The low angle gives excitingly long shadows and the fact that the sunlight has to travel through more of our atmosphere means it’s a bit softer and a lot warmer.

So you often find a lot of photographers lining up for sunset shoots at iconic locations.  The bridge over the Virgin River in Zion is a perfect example.  I’ve got to admit, I love to shoot sunsets from the bridge myself.  Most photographers will arrive early and stay about 20 minutes after the sun disappears below the horizon at which time the pack up and head off to dinner.

I like to stay till I can’t shoot any more.  The light show isn’t over by any means when the glow on the clouds fades.  It’s just a lot more subtle.  As the light fades exposure times increase and when you get up to 30 seconds then ISO starts to bump up.

Why do I like this light so much?  Well, because there is so much going on.  Many complex and intricate things are going on in the sky above.  You end up getting a delicate play of warm and cool light.  Everything is enveloped in a quiet, soft luminance.  It can be a magic unlike any other time of day.

I was shooting on that famous bridge in Zion back in November.  If it hadn’t been for my two friends shooting with me I would have been the only one on the bridge.  Everyone else had long gone.  I was shooting HDR, 5 bracketed shots, something I’ve found to be very effective (don’t forget, the sky stays bright long after the sun disappears).  Each shot was varied by 1 1/3 stop.  Post processing consisted of Photomatix and a little Light Room.  Here’s what I got.  (You can click on these images to enlarge them.)

Watchman at Twilight

Watchman at Twilight

A few weeks before I took this Zion twilight shot I found myself in Death Valley on the Mesquite Flats Dunes, again at sunset.  I set up on this one composition and shot it for about an hour and a half.  Many people like the stark contrast created by the sun playing on the undulating surfaces of the dunes.  I like it too.

Mescuite Dunes Sunset

Mesquite Dunes Sunset

 But a while later comes the real show, at least for my money.  The play of colors becomes outrageous with reds, magentas, purples, oranges, yellows and blues.  And I love the forms and textures of the sand.  It’s truly amazing.

Mesquite Dunes Twilight

Mesquite Dunes Twilight

So for my money, you’ll see me out there (usually by myself) until I can’t shoot any more.  Hey, why don’t you join me and see for yourself.

Then and only then I’ll pack up my gear and head off for dinner.

Note:  All of the above photographs are HDR, not just Zion.

To see more of my work go to Ralph Nordstrom Photography.

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